The despair and gloom of a sinful world gives way to an explosion of hope and unbridled joy
I was once a nominal Catholic, but even then I never stopped "celebrating" Christmas—at least all the traditions and trappings. The stupendous event of Christ’s coming to Earth remained in the background, its significance unexamined and unnoted while the charming glow of Christmases past and present remained.
If there are any Christians among our readers who find themselves so preoccupied with the traditions and trappings, the lights and the carols, that they haven’t set aside the time to examine the meaning of the Nativity, it’s not too late. Today, I offer you a bit of inspiration to get started: Alfred Reed’s magnificent “Russian Christmas Music.”
Reed called music "the greatest of all the communicative arts," and "Russian Christmas Music" is Exhibit A. It begins with the mournful sounds of a world mired in sin, without joy or hope. In the final strains of the closing movement, when the Son of God has broken through eternity into time, when He’s left his throne in heaven to assume our mortal flesh, and the angelic host fill the sky proclaiming the miracle of Christ’s birth, the music swells to a glorious crescendo of pealing bells, thundering percussion, and brass. This is the kind of music that captures the awesome wonder of Christ’s Incarnation and birth, and it is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.
There’s a fascinating story behind the composition, explained on Music Program Notes. In 1944, Reed was doing his military service with the Army Air Corps Band and only 23 years old—
Words, of course, can fall short of conveying the meaning of the mystery of God’s love for mankind and his coming to dwell among us to win our salvation. At the beginning of "The Gospel of Life," Pope St. John Paul II reminds us of two essential points:
By taking on our flesh – becoming human in all things but sin – Jesus ennobled all human life. Our dignity derives from the truth that God created us in his image, and loves us to the point of becoming man, suffering and dying to win our redemption, and thus allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.
Today, this understanding of human dignity is undermined by a materialist and dualistic view of the human person. Many regard the human body as something we inhabit, having no intrinsic value, except as a means of enjoying sensual pleasures. But once a body becomes burdensome or causes suffering, the growing view is that we have a right to dispose of it. Just last week, French President Fran
çois Hollande urged that "terminal sedation" be legalized. This means sedating patients deeply enough so that they (presumably) will not be aware of the unbearbale pain of being dehydrated or starved to death.
How one understands the human person – as an insignificant bit player in the drama of one’s life or as a creature loved by God, a unity of body and soul who will live eternally – affects one’s behavior toward others. We can be dismissive of those who don’t contribute to our immediate happiness or we can see them through God’s eyes.
As C.S. Lewis explained in "The Weight of Glory:"
At Christmas gatherings, in long checkout lines, and in crowded parking lots, let’s remember that Christ lives in the people around us. Let’s celebrate Christmas with profound gratitude that through his Incarnation and birth, Jesus showed us the meaning of love and the priceless value of every human life.
is a senior writer for Aleteia’s English language edition.